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'The .NET vision is about making software and information available anytime, anywhere and on any device'

When Microsoft announced its Hailstorm and .NET initiatives, many people wondered what these were all about, and some even dismissed it as vapourware. So we asked Daniel Ingitaraj, Marketing Manager-.NET servers and developer tools, Microsoft India, for details. Ingitaraj also told us about the initiatives Microsoft India is taking to promote .NET among developers and enterprises

As the .NET Manager at Microsoft India what are you engaged with at the moment? Is it true that Microsoft India is involved in a big way in making Java to .NET migration tools?

The Microsoft India Development Center announced the availability of the Java User Migration Path or JUMP to .NET approximately six months ago. That was our first offering, and at this moment I would not be able to comment on other work that might be on in this area at the Development Center.

We have at this time more than 105 companies building applications on .NET and quite a few of the ISV 's are developing the next versions of the products on .NET, also ISVs are developing vertical applications some of which require migration from Java in that sense, we have been helping them.

What initiatives have you launched to promote .NET amongst the developers and the enterprises?

Over the last year, we have launched several initiatives to help developers and our enterprise customers migrate to .NET. These include partners programs like ISV.NET and .NET Gain.

ISV.NET is a worldwide initiative launched by Microsoft Corporation, to help software houses develop next generation products on the .NET platform. .NET Gain, is a similar initiative aimed at helping such companies in developing solutions on the .NET platform. In India, companies like TCS, Satyam, Mastek etc have developed solutions on the .NET platform.

We also recently announced the First Wave partnership program with NIIT and i-flex a program aimed at readying these companies for product development using VS.NET. Under the partnership, Microsoft will provide these companies with in-depth technical help and support during the product development phase, and these companies will have solutions/applications built using VS.NET available by the time of its launch at the end of this year.

Additionally, we introduced a Visual Studio.NET Induction Program, an India specific program, in January this year. Under the program, we now have more than 105 companies building applications on Visual Studio.NET.

With the .NET Framework you can use any language you want, so how is Microsoft planning to position Visual Basic and C#?

The .NET Framework is a Multilanguage platform. Out of 20 odd languages that are supported on .NET, Microsoft is creating 3 languages Visual Basic.NET, Visual C++.NET and C#. These will be the 3 primary languages in Visual Studio.NET. Microsoft will also be creating compilers for these languages for additional support.

The .NET Framework will provide an enhanced version of Visual Basic, so the Visual Basic option for .NET will now be available to them. C# on the other hand, is the first component oriented programming language in the C and C++ family, combining the power and the control of these two languages with the functional ease and rapid applications development tools. C# provides developers an environment completely in sync with emerging Web standards but at the same time provides easy integration with existing applications. It is in that sense, truly a next generation language.

Both C# and Visual Basic.NET target CLR and as such choice of the language depends largely on the familiarity with the language syntax. C/C++ programmers will most probably choose C#, while existing VB programmers will find Visual Basic.NET most attractive as they are already familiar with VB syntax, for building .NET applications.

How does Windows CE fit into the .NET platform and what initiatives are you planning for it in India?

The .NET vision is about making software and information available anytime, anywhere and on any device. Windows CE is the platform we provide for handheld computers and PDAs and will be the platform that delivers on the "any device" part of this vision.

We are working on quite a few areas on this front:

Mobile Internet Toolkit: Developing applications for mobile devices like cell phones, pagers, and PDAs is challenging for reasons such as the need for different markup languages including HTML for PDAs, Wireless Markup Language (WML) for WAP phones, and compact HTML (cHTML) for Japanese i-Mode phones.

Devices have different form factors. For example, devices have varying numbers of display lines, horizontal or vertical screen orientation, color or b/w displays and different network connectivity.

.NET Compact Framework: This is a smaller footprint of the .NET Framework to run on these devices. The CLR-common language runtime is needed for applications to run on PC devices. The same application can run on devices using the .NET Compact Framework that will be on these devices. The Compact Framework will determine how the application that runs on a large device like a PC, will run on a small device like Pocket PC or mobile phones. Developers need not change any code to make their application run on these devices. Contrast this to today where an application developer has to create applications with different code base and footprint for different devices.

How can you be sure that people will want and pay for Web Services? The Hailstorm model is based on consumers paying for these services.

Analysts have long predicted that the Internet is going to create a new economy. It is going to be a platform for new business. But in the last 10 years very few companies have made profits out of a business model based on Internet. The B2C era went by and many promises went haywire as a commerce business model based on eyeballs or driving traffic to a site was not compelling enough. Real commerce wasn't quite possible either. The dismal performance of the Internet as a medium of conducting business can be attributed to a large extent to the very nature of the Internet as it exists today.

The Web is now ten years old, and the medium is still static in nature. By that I mean, the content on the Internet is static in nature, not modifiable, and certainly not flexible. The content on the Internet was developed only to display information. All we had therefore was a universal client, called the browser that allowed people to access and view information on various sites. What the Internet, and the client we used therefore, was not created to exchange or allow interaction between information, which is why I say that the Internet, the way it existed was not meant for transactions or business.

To conduct business on the Internet, like in the offline mode, something needs to be traded in exchange for something else some amount of goods trading can take place, like software that can be bought or sold, but the real business opportunity on the Internet lies in developing and offering Web Services to people who need them. Now with standards like XML and SOAP, the Internet will become interactive, and real, seamless exchange of data will be possible Web Services in that sense, present the biggest business opportunity for those who want to leverage this new medium.

Of course, like any other product or service offering, the acceptance of Web Services will be dependant on the value that these offer to the consumer. Web Services, we believe, have the potential to drastically change the way people work with the Internet, and really, make the Internet and related technologies work for them. Web Services developed by a company or by a developer can be used for a variety of purposes, while providing companies that develop these services an easy way of making them available to others.

Consumers today are willing to pay for the services that are offered to them in the offline world there's no reason why they wouldn't be willing to pay for those offered through the Internet if the service they get meets their expectation. Microsoft's business model is based on both licenses (like what we currently sell) and end-user subscriptions.

The business model for other companies will depend on their specific needs, but in general will fall into one of the following categories:

  • They provide an XML Web Service that users pay for through subscriptions
  • They provide an XML Web Service that users pay for on a per-use basis
  • They provide an XML Web Service to an intermediary who pays them for it (and who presumably has a business model of their own for generating revenue)
  • They provide an XML Web Service for free that is used to sell other goods or services offered by the company
  • They provide an XML Web Service for free and make money from the data gathered through the use of their XML Web service
  • They sell a .NET experience through a subscription or traditional software license

In Hailstorm the business model could be something like this:

  • End users will be charged subscription and/or premium fees for Web Services and applications that use or "consume" Hailstorm services. Microsoft will offer a variety of subscriptions for consumers, knowledge workers and other customer segments, delivered by various product divisions. Hailstorm offers the opportunity for third party adopters to create, sell, and realize revenue for subscription services and applications built on Hailstorm too.
  • Some Hailstorm services may have usage sensitive charges (e.g. storage for My Documents).

How do you view competitive plans from Sun Microsystems, HP and IBM in the Web Services area?

IBM: IBM worked with Microsoft to create SOAP specifications. They understand, and are building standards like XML, SOAP, and UDDI into the next versions of their products. However, IBM has never had a strong developer tools product line and most of its products are based around Java/J2EE. It will be interesting to see how they revolve around a spec that does not support Web Services and how they will build their own Web Services story.

Sun: It is great that Sun is jumping on the Web Services bandwagon and validating what the rest of the industry already knows to be true: that Web Services represent the next significant evolution of computing. Sun is finally supporting SOAP.

However, Sun still does not see the full power of XML Web Services with respect to smart clients. They are talking about "Modern Devices", which are merely browser-based dumb clients, where all of the logic and control live on the big centralized server. Today J2EE specs do not have anything to do with Web Services. They announced at SunONE in Feburary 2001; after this the industry has been waiting for more details, some specs to emerge nothing has emerged so far.

This is leading to J2EE vendors like WebLogic coming with their own implementations of Web Services just to be in the game. This is leading back to the good old Unix days where we had multiple variants of Unix we are getting a fragmented industry with different J2EE specs implementation.

HP: After e-speak, I have frankly not heard anything for close to two years now. The last I heard was that e-speak is going to support SOAP. That is good news in the sense that from a proprietary protocol e-speak is now moving to an industry standard. I like to hear some news on e-speak to consider it a competition in the Web Services arena.

What's the core business model behind Microsoft.NET? And why should corporations pay attention to Microsoft .NET?

Microsoft is creating an advanced new generation of software that will drive the Next Generation Internet. We call this initiative Microsoft .NET, and its purpose is to make information available any time, any place, on any device.

The driving force behind Microsoft .NET is a shift in focus from individual websites or devices to new constellations of computers, devices, and services that work together to deliver broader, richer solutions. People will have control over how, when, and what information is delivered to them. Computers, devices, and services will be able to collaborate directly with each other, and businesses will be able to offer their products and services in a way that lets customers embed them in their own electronic fabric.

The writer can be reached at: bhavishsood@netscape.net

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